BOTH SIDES NOW
Afeatures drawings of women by French artists such as Edouard Manet, PierreAuguste Renoir and Henri de ToulouseLautrec, as well as artists from abroad such as Theo Van Rysselberghe, Marie Cassatt and Emile Barthelemy Fabry, who worked in France in the period under review.
‘‘ Paris was at that time the most import- N Australian exclusive for the Queensland Art Gallery, Modern Woman: Daughters and Lovers 1850-1918: Drawings from the Musee d’orsay, Paris ant place in the world,’’ curator Isabelle Julia says. Artists were abandoning the idea of the female as a goddess and instead showing women in everyday contexts.
‘‘ All kinds of women are shown in the exhibition: the greatest and the poorest, urban women and peasant women, women at work, women at leisure. There is every kind of woman.’’
But perhaps the most modern women were Cassatt, Berthe Morisot, Marie Bashkirtseff, Marie Bracquemond, Louise Breslau and Eva Gonzalez, the female artists who are represented in this mostly male show (there are 46 men to six women).
QAG curator Julie Ewington is aware of the reservations some people will have about her all-female show, Contemporary Australia: Women. ‘‘ A lot of people will say that it’s not necessary,’’ she says. ‘‘ I don’t know if it’s necessary but it’s been a hell of a lot of fun to do and it’s been extraordinarily interesting.’’
Ewington gave 56 artists and collectives an open-ended brief to make work about whatever they wanted. Among them are all the artists interviewed here, as well as Fiona Hall, Jennifer Mills and performance collective Brown Council. ‘‘ People are saying: women are artists, they are completely on the agenda. What are they doing now?’’ Ewington says. ‘‘ It’s no longer the time where they were arguing about why are there no great women artists.’’
But it doesn’t mean the journey is over. ‘‘ Some of the younger artists are saying, actually there are some issues.’’
Ewington wanted a mix of established, emerging, indigenous and non-indigenous artists across a variety of mediums. ‘‘ What is the show about? It’s about celebration and exploration. It’s not about complaint, it’s about what is being achieved.’’
JUDY WATSON, 52, Brisbane IN contemporary feminist art history, women talk about how the male gaze views the woman as subject, as subdued and objectified. But all of a sudden she starts to return the gaze and she’s actually looking back at the viewer. Now it’s more of a knowing gaze because of feminism, enlightenment, gender equality and the rights of men and women in relation to each other. There is a lot more known — not just subjectively but also socially — across historical perspectives.
[In Modern Woman], Giovanni Boldini’s Nude Woman in Black Stockings Lying on a Sofa shows a woman who is almost presenting herself as she is ready for a sexual liaison. She’s almost being laid out on the chaise longue as open and, I guess, ready. It’s a great drawing but she doesn’t look entirely comfortable. I think that’s quite an interesting drawing because it’s actually captured something of her state of mind as well as being a figure drawing.
I am also interested in seeing the drawing of the female torso by Charles Maurin called Woman Taking off Her Slip, and Study of a Mythological Male Figure Seen from Behind. It looks like quite a beautiful still life of a woman who looks like she’s given birth. She’s got life written into her stomach.
As an artist I’ve been interested in that idea of how the inner and outer appearance of a woman’s body contains a passage of life and history, which has been embraced by it and passed through it.
For Contemporary Australia: Women I’m looking at my mother’s side of the family, the Aboriginal side. My great-great-grandmother Rosie escaped from a massacre on Lawn Hill Station, in northwest Queensland, in Waanyi country. She and another young girl were hiding behind the windbreak. Rosie got stabbed in the shoulder by a bayonet but she actually survived. Then she and the young girl went and hid from the police.
They weighted themselves down with stones in the water of a creek and used straws, which would have been from a reed or something or like that, to breathe. It’s a remarkable story of survival, but there are other stories of survival in the family too. I’m making a windbreak, allusion to the escape.
I think there is a point [in having an allfemale exhibition such as Contemporary Australia: Women]. In the early days of feminism I guess the point was trying to reverse the trend of stopping women from showing in exhibitions. Even when you look
an at a lot of the work that was collected and the artists who became famous in earlier times, women were the minority. In art schools now I think you will often get a majority of women. When I first went to art school, in the late 1970s, there weren’t very many women who were lecturers. But now I see in art schools across the country women are equal, certainly in lecturing roles.
As a female artist, I don’t pretend to be anything other than what I am. I don’t personally feel like I have to prove myself. Who am I proving it to, except my peers? BINDI COLE, 37, Melbourne ISN’T it funny? I wonder if men are asked what it’s like to be male artists? I always get asked either what it’s like to be an Aboriginal artist or what it’s like to be a female artist. I’d just like to be an artist at times and not be defined by these labels. I remember when someone found out I was in [this exhibition] and they congratulated me on being part of the ‘‘ feminist show’’. Isn’t that interesting? Just because it’s all female it must be a feminist show . . . There was no brief to make art to do with being a woman at all.
As an artist, my art is always going to be a reflection of the things that are going for me at the time. The work [I made for Contemporary Australia: Women] is called I Forgive You and it’s a wall installation text piece that spells ‘‘ I forgive you’’ and it’s made of about 10,000 emu feathers, which I hand-stuck one by one.
Growing up for me was pretty traumatic. I had a rough upbringing where I lived with a mother who was a beautiful woman who loved me very much, but at the same time was a heroin addict and a stripper. And so that kind of meant I had a very neglected childhood and was abused at times. When I was 16 my mum died and I have kind of been alone since then. I found myself into my late teens, early 20s, with a lot of really destructive, dysfunctional behaviours, addictions and what-not. I had to come to a place in my life, which I did around my mid-20s, where I had to have some healing occur . . . When those things happen in your life you are disempowered, but when you can forgive you are re-empowered.
I thought, if this worked for me, I wonder if it could work for community? I look around at community — particularly the Aboriginal community — and there’s a lot of unresolved trauma. I really do think that if there was going to be some kind of healing across community, I have a feeling it would come from the women in that community.
I had a look through the catalogue [of Modern Woman] and I particularly noticed that all the women were white. There’s no representation of ethnicity whatsoever. I don’t think I saw one woman who was ethnic in any way. There must have been a multicultural society at that time.
I don’t understand why the art world is so male-dominated. I just don’t get it to be honest . . . In 80 years, seven women have won the Archibald Prize. It’s not like anything has ever really changed between
Far left, Giovanni Boldini’s Woman with Fan Seated in a Theatre Box: The Countess of Rasti (c1878); left, Kirsty Bruce’s Untitled (2011)